All water filters are designed to make accessing clean, better-tasting water more convenient for you and your family. But if you drill down to the fine details, there are some substantive differences to how each type of filter functions. So of all the different water filter types out there, which is the easiest to use? Here’s our take on water filter usability, listed from most-to-least user friendly.

1. Countertop water filters

Usability Pros

  • No real installation
  • Accessible for cartridge refills
  • Convenient kitchen placement

Usability Cons

  • Need to replace cartridges periodically
  • Takes up counter space
  • Not chilled

Countertop water filters are not usually the most high-tech solutions to your filtering needs, but they are simple, convenient, and easy to use. Like most filter types, these models generally use adsorbent activated carbon cartridges to pull organic materials and compounds such as chlorine from your main water supply, leaving you with purer, better-tasting water.

Most filters designed for your countertop include a reservoir, allowing you to store fresh drinking water, while others fit straight onto your faucet via a directional valve, filtering water literally ‘on tap.’

Against the case for countertop filters being the easiest-to-use option is the fact that they are often relatively large and quite heavy. This means that they need a sizable permanent spot in your kitchen, often right by the sink, which can be a high-traffic area. Like most filters on this list, it’s unusual to find a countertop filter that chills water, or who’s cartridges don’t need periodically replacing.

2. Refrigerator filter

Usability Pros

  • Hassle-free—simply replace the cartridge periodically
  • Pre-chilled water
  • Integrated into a pre-existing kitchen element

Usability Cons

  • Only available with certain fridge models
  • Can be costly
  • Concealed cartridges can make it easy to forget to replace them

For those with the right kind of refrigerator, an integrated fridge filter is undoubtedly the most convenient filter type for everyday use. Simply fill your glass straight from the fridge, which will produce chilled, purified water on-demand.

Of course, not every fridge comes complete with a water filter, and those interested in adding a filter after purchase may need to pay extra for installation/plumbing. In addition, the concealed inner workings of a fridge filter mean that repairs and/or deep cleaning can be difficult. So, consider an integrated fridge filter to rank highly in terms of everyday usability, but a little lower when it comes to installation and maintenance.

Close up of female hand holding a clear glass getting water from the water dispensor on the refrigerator door.

3. Faucet-mounted filter

Usability Pros

  • On-tap filtering, directly at the point of use
  • Space-efficient
  • Easy access for filter replacements

Usability Cons

  • Can noticeably slow water-flow from the faucet
  • Requires a decent quality tap
  • Not chilled

Like a countertop filter, an on-faucet filter mounts right on your sink, reducing the need to make trips around your kitchen when filling up on filtered water. Simply flip the valve switch on your filter, and tap water passes through a carbon filter before hitting your glass. As a plus, putting the filter directly onto the tap removes the need to clear space amongst your coffee maker, toaster, kettle, blender, bread maker, juicer, ice cream churner, freeze drier, herb garden…

Against that convenience, however, is the fact that many reviews of faucet-mounted filters cite slowed water flow as an annoying side effect of installing the filter. This may not be an issue for the occasional glass of water, but if you regularly fill larger containers with your kitchen taps, you may need to switch the filter on and off every time you use it.

4. Pitcher filter

Usability Pros

  • Mobile
  • Low cost and self-explanatory
  • Zero installation
  • Can be chilled

Usability Cons

  • Lots of refilling
  • Must be carried to the sink for each refill

The ubiquitous water filter design is the pitcher filter—inexpensive, portable, and self-explanatory. Simply fill the upper reservoir and let gravity pull water through the filter into the lower, pourable reservoir. Because pitchers are portable, you can also store them in the fridge, combining the benefits of a refrigerator filter with the simplicity of a countertop model.

However, as anyone who’s owned a Brita or other pitcher filter can attest, re-filling the filter reservoir can quickly become tedious. While it may only take a minute or so, being required to repeatedly, manually refresh your supply of filtered water leads some to give up, and make do with plain old stuff from the tap.

5. (Or 1.) Undersink filters

Usability Pros

  • Seamless filtered water
  • Space-saving and aesthetically pleasing.
  • Longlife cartridge replacements, especially with Reverse Osmosis systems

Usability Cons

  • Major installation—probably requiring professional labor
  • Installation could include drilling holes in the countertop or alterations to plumbing
  • Takes up cupboard space

Under-sink filters tend to be a more luxurious filtering option, requiring professional installation to provide purer water through the main faucet or a secondary tap. This makes under-sink types the most, or least, easy filters to use, depending on your perspective.

Their large reservoirs and sleek integration with kitchens mean that under-sink models are a highly usable everyday option. However, while they might win in terms of seamless usage once they’re installed, setting up a filter of this type is by far the most intensive, and cost-prohibitive, process of any filter on this list.

Summary

A countertop filter may not come out on top in any one individual category, but they tend to provide the easiest all-round user experience. While they do take up room, and need their cartridges replaced periodically, countertop filters don’t require any real installation, and are right there at the point of use, making them more convenient than other types.

If installation is no concern, however, an under-sink filter provides the ultimate in seamless, long term ease-of-use.